St Helens v Leeds Rhinos: ‘If we can come back from what’s happened to us in the year, anything can happen now, especially when it comes to play-offs football’

There is a growing belief at Leeds Rhinos that they are ready for anything thrown at them in 2021 – which spells good news for tonight’s visit to champions St Helens and any ensuing Betfred Super League play-offs bid.

Victory against Kristian Woolf’s side will secure their top-six berth but, if they fail – and remember Leeds have not defeated Saints in any of their last seven meetings – they have one last chance at home to Hull KR next Friday.

Either way, they are confident of being in the race at the end, regardless of an injury list which remains painful reading for their coach Richard Agar.

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One of the West Yorkshire club’s greatest strengths has been their ability to adapt to myriad situations, illustrated once more on Saturday when, still bereft of key players, they essentially jettisoned one of their play-off rivals –Hull FC – with a dramatic Golden Point success at Magic Weekend.

“That win showed real resilience,” Rhinos loose forward Cameron Smith told The Yorkshire Post, as Leeds secured a fourth victory in five games.

“Watching that, I think people might think – especially with players soon coming back – that we’re going to be a force in the six if we do get there.

“We’ve done it tough with bans, Covid and injuries. I know everyone has but – and this might be me being biased – I do think we’ve had it tougher than anyone this year.

“When we beat FC, I took a step back and thought ‘bloody hell, we’ve come a long way.’

Leeds Rhinos' Cameron Smith goes on the attack. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“If we can come back from what’s happened to us in the year, anything can happen now, especially when it comes to play-offs football. And we know it’s in our own hands now going into these last two regular rounds starting with Saints on Friday.”

Ironically, Saints, in second, were on the wrong end of their own Golden Point drama in Newcastle immediately prior to Leeds last weekend.

In one of the most remarkable finishes in Super League history, they squandered a 30-12 advantage against Catalans Dragons, conceding three tries in the final four minutes before ultimately losing out in extra-time.

Furthermore, that meant they also ceded the League Leaders’ Shield to the French club and will, no doubt, still be privately seething ahead of tonight’s match.

It will only make the back-to-back champions more dangerous for fifth-placed Leeds. Smith admitted: “They are a real top side.

“They turn up every week, are really consistent and I think when they play against us they kick it up another level as well.

“We’re expecting a real tough contest but, getting closer to the play-offs like this, everyone is wanting to put their best foot forward.

“If we can get the win, it would put us in good stead for the play-offs. Hopefully we can and, if we do get in the six and come up against them then, it would really help us prepare for it.”

For all Saints are star-studded with the likes of Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson and England team-mates James Roby and Alex Walmsley, it is the consistent work of their uncapped loose forward Morgan Knowles that continues to bring praise.

With his hard-hitting defence, high work-rate and deft hands, the 24-year-old Cumbrian is nailed on to make Super League’s Dream Team.

Smith, 22, is certainly relishing their contest in the middle.

“Knowles is extremely good,” he said.

“He’s probably the stand-out 13 in the competition. I always keep my eye out for him to see if I can learn anything from what he does. He’s in the England squad now and that shows what a high quality player he is. I’m expecting a tough battle and it will be a real challenge.”

Meanwhile, Corey Johnson could make his return for Leeds tonight – 18 months after the England Academy hooker quit the sport completely aged just 19.

He re-signed for Rhinos in July and has been at York City Knights on loan but with three half-backs injured and hooker Kruise Leeming playing No7, he has been recalled for potentially his first game since debuting in 2019.